Saturday, October 03, 2009

Not ready for harvest

As corny as Kansas, but in Illinois.
This photograph was from a batch of 3.25" x 3.25" negatives from "Henderson County, Ills.", developed in Galesburg, dated ca. 1910-1919.

Last spring, my parents drove upstate to the Chicago area to attend the funeral of my mother's half-brother. We don't really have much in the way of emotional (or other) ties to that branch of the family, as Mom was raised, not by her parents, but by her mother's sister's household... several aunts, an uncle and a cousin, that is. That is where the bond is strong -- with the family on the farm, and with the land itself.

Mom has many great, fond memories of the place where she was raised, on the outskirts of a little town not far from Joliet. I have equally fond memories of holidays spent at the same place, listening to the great rusty windmill creaking, groaning, and complaining with each breeze throughout the night. We both still see, in our mind's eyes, or smell with the shifting winds of time, the musty corn crib, the grassy hayloft, the bleached bungalow out back, Grandpa's (that would be my great-grand-uncle's) workshop with the forge, the cellar filled with foods put by... that way of life is still deeply embedded in our souls.

Every sunny morning, on the farm, came with rainbows. Every evening went the same way. When the house had been built, Grandpa made certain to install beveled, leaded glass panes in the large bay windows. Those built-in prisms scattered colors across walls, floor, and faces as the sun passed. To a child, this was magical. To an adult, this was simply joy -- a far greater magic.

The quickest glance in any direction out those precious windows, always, gave a view of the braided rug that was the tilled and planted earth, bordered by a line of tall grass and a gravel road. Beneath bare feet, that black ground was the essence of all things good.

As the seasons changed, colors outdoors changed, but the essential rhythm of the farm remained one of honest toil, worry punctuated with laughter and music. Evenings, holidays, Sundays after church and after dinner were spent around the piano, swapping songs and stories. Strangers and even old foes were welcome at the dining table, especially on the holidays. Crowds came and went, love always remained.

They put the interstate highway in while I was still in school. All I cared was that it took me to Grandma and Grandpa's farm that much faster. The folks, by that time, had retired from the fields to allow a neighbor to work the land, and they didn't mind, then, the ease of travel afforded by the four-lane thoroughfare. It got them to their desk jobs in Joliet that much faster and more easily.

When I was getting ready for college, the folks sold the farm to some people who said they wanted to turn the house into a Bed and Breakfast. No problem. The new owners tore down most of the farm structures, though. I wasn't sure why. I suppose there was some liability issue, or, maybe, since they weren't farming there, they decided they didn't need to maintain the old wooden crib, the battered barn, the forge. They also tore down the house, laid in new foundations on the old footprint, and replaced the wood structure with a brick block of a thing -- with no windows on the east or west sides, and plain glass on the southern exposure. They saw no rainbows.

Mom and I could adjust to those sorts of changes. New people want to make their own marks on the land, and so it is with houses. We thought they were fools for omitting daylight from their list of priorities, but it was their loss, after all.

Now, though, the farm and farmstead are long gone. Yes, the brick B-and-B is still there, but it's surrounded by a national retail distribution center's row-upon-row of warehouses and truck lots. The "back forty" acres are no longer braided rows of farmland, but containment ponds for sewage treatment for the ever-expanding (and, in faltering economy, likely soon-to-decay) suburban developments, both industrial and residential.

What was once rich land is now nothing but property. Neither my mother nor I will willingly go by that parcel of real estate again. Some changes are simply too painful to face again.

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